Mindfulness increases our awareness and tolerance for distressing emotions. Mindfulness in relationships helps us become less reactive to our partners, and cope with relationships stress. A University of North Carolina study has shown that mindfulness not only improves our individual lives but has a positive affect on our interpersonal relationships as well. In this study, couples who practiced mindfulness reported more “relationship happiness”.
Many couples have turned to me for support regarding their relationship. They find themselves having destructive patterns that hurt the relationship and cause distress. Couples can find themselves shutting down in avoidance of major conflict instead of opening up. These response patterns come after years of learned behavior. If it was possible to learn this behavior, it’s possible to unlearn it, it just takes time.
In session, I like to ask each partner what they notice about themselves before they start to do the destructive pattern that they sought treatment for. Some people say their body becomes very hot before they fly of into a rage. Others say they become annoyed and shut down. Everyone has these signs that their body gives them indicating that this automatic response is going to happen. When we are actively discussing events in session, I can start to see a partner go into their mode and help them out.
We all have triggers in our relationships. Imagine being able to notice the bodily changes coming over you that signal certain emotions. Instead of becoming caught up and carried away with these emotions you are able to identify what is going on and decide to act differently. Because deep down inside you know that the old way of acting isn’t working for the relationship.
Mindfulness requires commitment as does mindfulness in relationships. Once you become more mindful of yourself and your ways, it’s hard to turn around and return to the old you. You may find that a new world has opened up for you. This same commitment transfers to relationships. Now that you have built awareness, what commitment are you making to the relationship to respond differently? Are you going to communicate that you need a time out or are you going to walk out the door again and slam it behind you?
How can you start to foster mindfulness in your life and mindfulness in relationships? You can start a meditation practice where you take time to sit with yourself and your thoughts. You will become more in tune with yourself and hopefully reduce stress that becomes carried over into the relationship. Meditation promotes self growth, empathy, compassion, non judgement and we learn to take each moment as it comes. Components from mindfulness, directly transfer to essential interpersonal skills. In relationships we must be able to stay in the present moment with our partners and learn to not allow each conflict to deter us.
People are in many different areas of their life when they go into couples counseling. Ultimately, they want help, they feel something is wrong. Whether two people decide to stay together or not, the skills learned (good or bad) will transfer to the next relationship. Mindfulness creates benefits for your mental and physical health but also for any relationship you decide to pursue.